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Virgin wines, haute couture Champagne, Chardonnay and a Slurpee, and moose (and emus and goats) on the loose

Posted: December 31, 1969

• Unfiltered knows that nothing appeals to young people like big corporations marketing a product as edgy and hip. To prove it again, British billionaire and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has teamed up with Brown-Forman Wines to produce Virgin Vines, wines for young, edgy drinkers. "Wine, like life, is meant to be enjoyed," Branson said Monday night as he introduced the wines in New York. "All the pomp and ceremony currently associated with wine just gets in the way of enjoying it." Branson avoided pomp by releasing the wines at a kickoff party featuring models stomping on grapes in old-fashioned wooden vats and a slogan that read, "Unscrew it, let's do it." A Chardonnay and a Shiraz, both from California, are available for $10 a bottle or in four packs of plastic mini-bottles for $9. The wines feature screw tops and back labels mocking those who take wine too seriously for Virgin's taste: "Dare to enjoy this wine without dashes of pretentiousness or hints of snootiness. Virgin Vines believes wine should be all about having fun and loving the taste--not waxing poetically about meaningless wine-speak and food pairings." Yep, nothing worse than trying to enjoy wine with food.

• Speaking of marketing wine to a younger audience, recent weeks have brought yet another menagerie of wine labels featuring funny animals and silly names. In the $10 category, Constellation Wines unveiled its Three Blind Moose line from California, then followed up with the screw-capped Four Emus wines from Western Australia. Can Five Ferrets be far behind? Also debuting is boutique California producer A Donkey and A Goat, not to be confused with the existing Flying Goat or Goats do Roam. If things weren't confusing enough, the last few years have seen the addition of Big Moose, Leaping Lizard, Cool Fish, Flying Fish, Dog House and Mad Dogs and Englishmen. (The canine family alone is crowded with Coyote Creek, Coyote Canyon, Coyote Crest and Black Coyote, which are different from Wolf Family, Wolf Ridge and Wolf Vineyards.) And there's a new entrant joining old-timers Iron Horse and Wild Horse in the race for horse lovers; we just saw--and we're not kidding--a brand called Seabiscuit Ranch. Makes you long for the days when all you had to do was remember the difference between Stag's Leap Wine Cellars and Stags' Leap Winery.

• So much for it being what's on the inside that counts. First Jean-Paul Gaultier decked out Piper-Hiedsieck Champagne in a red vinyl corset, then Paco Rabanne adorned Lanson in silver mesh. And now, in time for Fashion Week in New York, Pommeryis putting its Brut 1995 into a designer silk bag created by Madison Avenue boutique Shanghai Tang. The Champagne, originally $50 on release, is available in the hot pink and lime ensemble for $135. Meanwhile, Veuve Clicquot will be showing off its recently introduced Ice Jacket, a neoprene skin that can keep the bottle chilled for up to two hours, at a Fashion Week event, featuring waitresses also clad in tight-fitting wetsuits, just like the bottle. When you think about it, the products really fit in with the whole notion of Fashion Week. Both the wine and the models are impressive on their own, both are wrapped in expensive haute couture, and both are pretty much empty above the neck.

• Oh, thank heaven. The chain that taught us that it's OK to eat scary-looking hot dogs and suck down a radioactive-looking Slurpee at 4 a.m., while the tank fills with unleaded gasoline, is now introducing its own private-label wine. In a deal with Philadelphia company KDM Global Partners, which sells private-label wines that it buys from a variety of sources, 7-Eleven stores in 19 states will feature the new Thousand Oaks wines, priced at $7 per bottle. 7-Eleven began selling wines priced between $5 and $10 in 1998 and has since expanded its offerings. Thousand Oaks will be sold in 3,200 stores alongside other 7-Eleven selections such as Columbia Crest, Kendall-Jackson, Turning Leaf, Woodbridge and Gallo of Sonoma. "Thousand Oaks will be a high quality, great-tasting wine available only at 7-Eleven," Mark Herron, the company's manager of alcoholic beverage sales, told the Philadelphia Business Journal. "We want to provide consumers a quick and convenient place to pick up a bottle of wine." He did not say, however, what flavors of Thousand Oaks will be available, or whether the wines will come in Big Gulp size and cause brain freeze.

• It wasn't exactly a secret that most shareholders in Chalone Wine Group weren't in it for the money. The stock seldom increased in value, so many investors bought it mainly to get access to winery parties and exclusive wine sales. After U.K. alcoholic beverage giant Diageo bought the company earlier this year, some former stockholders predicted the perks would end. They may have received their first sign on Sept. 10, when Chalone was supposed to hold its annual Napa Valley warehouse sale. The company abruptly cancelled the long-standing event, which gave shareholders a chance to get some great bargains, magnums, half-bottles and end-of-vintage closeouts. Although the sale for the redubbed Founders Club had been previously announced, it was apparently called off with little notice, other than not listing it in the latest schedule of events. Despite that, Chalone spokesman Tom Scott said the company received only one complaint. "Only a few hundred people attended last year's event," said Scott, who explained that Chalone now stores its wine in a Sonoma facility unequipped to handle events. Scott predicts that the company will replace the sale with mail-order deals. "We're trying to put together something that gives the most access to the most people." Maybe the company can start cross-marketing with Cuervo and Captain Morgan's.

• Though a recent Gallup poll shows that wine has surpassed beer to become the favorite drink of Americans, that doesn't mean they know a lot about it. A study of 429 wine drinkers, commissioned by the California Association of Winegrape Growers and performed by Wine Opinions, found that only 33 percent actually knew that the vintage date on a wine label indicates the year in which the grapes were harvested. A full 12 percent were "undecided," which seems to be the nice way of saying that they didn't have a clue. However, the wine's age was still a factor in buying decisions. When presented with the choice of having a one-, three- or five-year-old, moderately priced white wine with dinner, 44 percent of those polled chose the five-year-old wine, even though white wines in this price bracket, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, tend to deteriorate with age. Wine Opinions called this "the curse of Orson Welles"--for his intonation of the famous Paul Masson line from the 1970s: "We sell no wine before its time." Sure, blame an entire population's ignorance on someone who can't fight back.

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